skip to main content
caption: Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Ore.
Enlarge Icon
Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Ore.
Credit: AP

The ACLU of Washington is monitoring the presence of federal agents in Seattle

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says federal authorities have sent more law enforcement agents to the area, without notifying her office or Seattle police.

“I, at this point, have to presume that what is happening in Portland could happen here," Durkan said Friday. "So, one reason I was on a call this morning with more lawyers than any mayor should have to be on a call with, was to make sure that we were ready to go, not just Seattle, but for the region.”

The American Civil Liberties Union is also keeping a close eye on the federal presence in Portland and Seattle. Lisa Nowlin is a staff attorney with the ACLU of Washington.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

We now know that federal authorities have sent more law enforcement agents to the Seattle area this week. What are your concerns about that federal presence here based on what you've seen?

Lisa Nowlin: What's happening here with the federal agents should concern everyone, after seeing what happened in Portland. The violence there, everything that the federal agents were doing with chemical weapons, and the tear gas, and the kidnappings of people off the streets, and the fact that they're bringing that here to Seattle and to Chicago over the objections of the mayor and the police chief should concern everyone.

The ACLU at the national level has called what's happening in Portland a “constitutional crisis.” Tell me a little bit about what that means.

You have federal agents that are basically usurping the power of the state. The state is responsible for policing. The federal agents are saying that they are just protecting federal buildings, but again, as we saw in Portland, that's not what we're doing. That is a constitutional crisis and a threat to our democracy.

As you know, in Seattle we've had a couple of nights recently where folks were protesting on the street. There were broken windows. Property was vandalized. Police responded. No arrests were made. We do know that more protests are planned for this weekend. What are you specifically going to be monitoring and looking for in the coming days?

We're going to be monitoring where the federal agents go, what they're doing, what weapons, they're using, what extent if any cooperation with the Seattle Police Department, and I think just trying to document everything.

In Portland, they were using sound cannons. They were using projectiles. They were using tear gas, which per the Geneva Convention is outlawed in war, but federal agents are here using them against civilians. So, we're going to be watching for all of that and to make sure that the protesters rights are protected.

The Department of Homeland Security is saying that officers from Customs and Border Patrol are being sent here to beef up security at federal government buildings. If that is their role and remains their role, do you have an issue with that?

The agents have the right to protect the federal buildings, but again, that's not what we saw happening in Portland. These agents were going way beyond that role, and firing weapons on peaceful protesters, targeting journalists, targeting legal observers, detaining people in unmarked vans. That is definitely concerning.

If there was something that you could say to some folks who are in charge, federal authorities right now listening to you, what would you want to tell them?

Their violence and their weapons are not welcome here. The protesters don't welcome them. The city has not welcomed them. The Seattle Police Department has not welcomed them. And, that they are violating people's rights, their First Amendment rights, and that meeting calls for the end to police brutality and systemic racism with more brutality is not the way to go, and that our Constitution does not permit that.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.